Thursday, August 30, 2012

Here's The Good News!

Home is where the magic happens.  I am convinced of it.  When I am home, my life seems to sort itself out.  Maybe it's that I am just happier when I am home.  Maybe it's that I have a better support network at home.  Maybe it's... ah, who knows.  WHO CARES?  Point is, I am home.

I went to my A.R.T./chiro/PT place and the whole team took a crack at my shoulder and knee.  The shoulder apparently was jarred loose in the crash and the humerus keeps unseating itself from the socket.  That is why my progress has been one step forward-two steps back.  They performed some ROM and strength tests, which I flunked flamboyantly, to confirm the suspicion.  The PT guy (Brandon Williams- super smart dude) is apparently particularly good with shoulders (and all other broken parts would be my guess) and while I was explaining myself to the TP (trigger point) guy, he jumped in and it became a group project.  He showed me how to reset the joint using a towel (can I tell you how awesome THAT felt) and then repeated the tests.  It was painful, but I passed.  With the shoulder aligned properly, I was able to generate strength in the arm.

This applies to my situation in far too many capacities.

I was then passed on to the A.R.T/Chiropractor, Dr. AJ Zelinski (The Wizard for future reference), who got REALLY aggressive with both the shoulder and the knee.  When I whimpered, he said "You said fix it, right?"  Ugh.  Did I say that?  Of course I did.  Awesome.  But he had some really good news.  He confirmed Dr Mike's original confirmation that the meniscus was undamaged, just bruised and inflamed. He actually said that if I was in the sprint race at Tri Rock Austin, I could do it.  He didn't think I should push for the Olympic distance, which is where I am entered.  (Of COURSE, I sent them an email asking if I could switch.)  He cleared me to run and swim, being mindful of pain, and gave me very specific instructions for going forward.

He said GO!  

I then finished up with more TP work, focusing particularly on some things I had been doing wrong, and then an rather extensive list of ice, heat, ultrasound and E-stim therapies.  In all, I was there for a couple of hours but it was time well spent.

After the initial irritation settled a bit, the broken parts all felt pretty good so I headed to the pool (but not before stopping at Lane 4 and getting a kick board and INCREDIBLY cute, new, green plaid swimsuit!!)  My clearance to swim included one caveat.. ONLY if I had good body roll.  I was not to move the shoulder in certain planes of motion for a while but so long as I had good rotation, my swim stroke would stay out of those.  Did I mention that I don't have the best rotation in the world?  I figured if all I did was kick sets and slide-and-glide drills, so be it.  It was better than nothing.  In all, I was surprised to find my catch and pull were back on line.  I felt really powerful in the water, actually.  Apparently that joint being displaced was robbing me of quite a bit.  Previous swims have felt a little like rowing a boat with a fly swatter!  I alternated swim and kick sets until I felt like my form was deteriorating a little. I stopped immediately but had still logged the longest yardage since the bike crash at the end of June and it was all really high quality work.
SUPER cute and in a smaller size!

I then went for a short run.  It was such a relief to be back on the Town Lake Trail.  It was dark but that groomed crushed granite surface was easy to run on and very forgiving to the joints.  I picked out a 5K loop and took off.  I got rolling a little too fast (oh maybe at or around my 5k pace) about 3/4 of a mile in- it felt so good that my self control was less than perfect- and the IT band began tightening up just before mile 2.  I didn't wait for it to become a big pain, instead I walked immediately.  It took about a 1/4 of a mile to sort itself out and I tested it out again, this time a little (about 2:00/mi) slower.  I surprised myself when I got to the end of the loop and was rolling along just fine.

It began to ache on the way home so when I got home, I iced the joint and followed that with a warming liniment (an awesome formula that I get through some horsey connections) on the entire IT band.  THAT was the right answer.  The ice had been making the IT band tight which was irritating the knee and countering the positive effects of the ice on the knee.  By following it with a warming rub, the tissue loosened back up and let the joint enjoy the cooling benefits of the ice.

The particularly good news is this morning, both the shoulder and the knee are better than they were yesterday.  I am a little muscle sore from all the TP work but that is to be expected.  I am planning a walk in the country with Seabiscuit today, followed by more of the new treatment protocol developed yesterday.  My volume and intensity (and endurance, I might add- use it or lose it I guess) may be greatly reduced but the happy news is that I am back in action!!

Happy Duck... Don't you see the smile?  :)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I'm Out But I Have An Idea...

It's official.  As of yesterday's conversation with DW, I'm out of Tri Rock Austin and now Galveston is on the chopping block.  In fact, for the first time since we started working together, he didn't even write a schedule for me this week.  I am totally benched.  The knee is healing.  It is not permanently damaged, but it is taking it's own sweet time arriving at a pain free state.  All I can do it sit and wait.

Aside from the frequent, compulsive urges to take Seabiscuit out for a good long head-clearing ride... Oh, say 50 miles of rollers to really get the blood flowing... the biggest angst for me is not being able to do the longer speed runs.  I really had come to love those, which is pretty surprising.    There is something awesome about feeling a little waxed during one of the rest periods then dialing it back up even faster on the next interval.  It's like a drug.  It's totally exhilarating.

The experience has led me to a surprising conclusion.  Running slow is harder than running fast.  The slow runs are when I hurt the most, when my body complains and my brains listens attentively.  The two play upon each other, whipping up the depth of each others misery, like two recently dumped girlfriends hating men over a couple pints of rocky road.  Long slow runs are the bane of my existence.  Fast runs of any length are the solution.  The same distance at 1-2 min per mile faster involves half the suffering.  It takes the experience out of the realm of "chore" and places it firmly into the realm of "fun".

Now aside from the adrenaline factor, which is a major component here, there is (at least for me) another consideration.  I run differently when I run fast.  When I pick up the pace, I change my body shape.  I focus on along my spine and just below my shoulder blades and put a mental anchor there.  I then feel my spine all the way up through the back of my head and lengthen that area until I feel a gentle stretch.  Then I open my collar bone and gently pull in my chin.  That's it.  I don't go harder.  I don't go faster.  I do this.  It aligns my body, takes all of the lateral sway out of my gait, engages the right muscle groups and takes pressure off my airways.  This accounts for the difference between an 11 minute mile and a 7:30.  To go faster than that, I have to think about picking up my cadence as well, but really that is not surprising.

The flip side to this is also very significant.  When I don't do this I hurt.  I hurt a lot.  My knees, hips, Achilles, feet... they hurt.  Every waddling step is a little bit of misery.  Cue the pity party.  But I think there is a component here that is the key to unlocking my run and evading the steady rain of injuries that I have had.  I have started trying to do these things when I walk, stand, sit, drive a car, braid a horse, etc.  I have become increasingly aware of this body shape in all aspects of my life.  It is shockingly difficult to maintain.  No sooner than I check in with my posture and correct it, gravity has already started to pull it down again.  I feel like a scoop of ice cream in the Texas sun, melting all over it's cone.  You keep pushing it back up and it keeps sliding off.  (In fact, I have corrected my posture a half dozen times since I started writing this paragraph.)

I have allowed my muscles to mold themselves into a near-fetal position over the course of a few decades and now, proper alignment is elusive, difficult, and a little uncomfortable.  Tight muscles on the front of my body object.  Weak muscles on the back of my body concur with the angry tight ones up front.  This whole posture thing is hogwash in their eyes.  So what's a duck to do?

Well, for starters... Yoga and Pilates might be good choices.  Or at least a balance ball and some bands.  If I am going to lose some fitness letting my broken bits get less broken, this might be a good opportunity to devote some time to building a foundation for some postural/strength/flexibility work.  It is a great time to add it to the program.  When I was kicking along full steam, it was very difficult to add anything and the couple of attempts I did make were largely unsuccessful.  I was always too close to the edge of overload trying to balance my job and my training.  Now I am sidelined and soon it will be the off season.  It is the perfect time to work this into the program.

Now for the hard part.. doing something new.  Yeah, it's that whole comfort zone thing.  I am so good at things that are extroverted, intense, masculine, Yang-style activities.  I am not so good at softer, internal, feminine, Yin-style activities.  Some people perceive these to be easier. They are not.  They are simply more subtle in their difficulty.  I am not so great with subtle. Unfortunately for my sense of safety, that is exactly what this situation calls for.  The problem with traditional strength training (my comfort zone) is that I already have too much muscle and I pack it on like a man.  It has been ruled out as a good idea for my program.  I am out of balance and balance is the only thing that will fix it.


not scary.

maybe a little scary!

That means... putting on something that does not reek of old sweat and walking into a room full of tranquil (scary) females.  Seriously, nothing terrifies me more.  I don't know if it's because I am such a tomboy that I am more comfortable in the company of men or if the ladies in places like that really do have fangs and poison glands.  When I walk into a weight room, or show up on a group ride full of men, it's like a challenge.  I have been a woman carving out a space in a man's world for so long, that feeling of being an underdog is familiar, friendly.  It elicits a predictable response.  ON THE OTHER HAND, when I walk into a pilates class, I feel like a duck hanging with the song birds: course, loud, overbearing, awkward, and completely out of place.

Perhaps, a yoga video is the answer.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Empowerment (inspired by Swim Bike Mom)

If I am posting again today, that can only mean one thing:  I am not back in training yet.  :(

I have been kicking around an idea for a post for a while and since I have some time on my hands right now... Well, there is no time like the present, eh?

A while back, SwimBikeMom posted about starting points.  She said something in that post that really resonated with me.

"You may be starting this journey from a place of rawness, a place resulting from years of fatness or sadness or defeat.  Remember to take care of yourself and treat yourself gently as you begin."

My journey began long before I started training for triathlon.  But the place I was in then was not so different from where I was when I began the training.  I carried a ton of baggage with me early on.  Physical baggage, emotional baggage; it all amounted to a ton of work to carry around.  No wonder I ran so slowly!!

I have danced around the idea of going deeply into my past experiences here since there might be someone who benefits from it, but have decided against it.  For me, this journey is about moving forward.  While part of the healing process most certainly was facing, discussing, and accepting the events of the past, the most significant step was when I stopped dwelling on it and moved forward without those things rattling around in my brain.

In addition, to the many physical health challenges that I have had to overcome, I also had the not-so-fantastic experience of battling PTSD.  One of the important things to note about the events that cause PTSD is that regardless of how varied they may seem, they have the following quality in common.  The victim experiences an event that causes great horror WHERE THEY FEEL OVERWHELMINGLY HELPLESS.  I read this description (I would properly quote and credit it if I had a clue where I read it) years after I had regained my life and realized that this truly was the crux of it.

Why is this so significant?  Well, because part of the process for me was ultimately dealing with my contributions to my situation.  No, I was not truly to blame, especially early on... HOWEVER, at some point I had to accept a certain accountability.  I was careless with my life, careless with my safety, I allowed myself to be in situations that provided increased opportunities for people to hurt me.  I increased the odds of becoming a statistic, so no matter how harsh it may seem, I couldn't really be surprised when it happened.  I became a statistic.  (One caveat... this is a reference to MY situation only.  Many people find themselves in terrible situations and there is absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent it.  And other find themselves there because they are fighting for something and are willing to make that sacrifice in service to others.  This post is in general terms and should not be applied to specific situations!)

Accepting responsibility early on was impossible.  I hated myself enough without that, thank you.  That is where my fitness journey came into play.  I started just doing sessions with a personal trainer.  Early on, it was a last ditch effort to get out of pain.  But what was significant here was that I was doing something, anything to save myself.  It was truly starting from a "place of defeat".

You've heard of "fake it till ya make it".  That was kind of what happened here.  I spent money, time and effort on myself and it helped me to start thinking I might be worth it.  It was baby steps.  I lost a couple of pounds, I could stand up a little straighter.  I was taking less ibuprofen.  Then it led to other things.  I got my hair done.  I bought some new clothes.  A tiny spark of self worth was glowing in the ashes and the little things I was doing was blowing it brighter every day.

Then one day I ran for a few minutes.  Then I entered a 5K, and completed it.  I was still deriving my self worth from outside accomplishments because that was all I had but it didn't matter.  It was growing.  As I grew, the sense of helplessness was replaced by a sense of empowerment.  For me, this was the key to true healing.

I became very intimate with accountability.  My actions had definite consequences.  If I did my workout, I felt better, looked better, saw progress.  If I did not, I did not.  Basic stuff but it was foreign to me.  Then I asked if I could do a tri.  My trainer didn't see why not.  I joined a tri club but didn't show up to a group workout for six months because I didn't think I was good enough.  But then I did.  And I had a great time.  And I hired the coach.  And I asked if there was any possibility that "someone like me" could do this.  He asked me if I could give him a reason why I couldn't.  The trainer and the coach gave me permission, validation, and opened the door for my developing sense of self to walk out into the sun.

Eventually, I gained some confidence.  It was always with a caveat: "I may not be this but I am at least good at that."  Usually the "this" had to do with body shape and the "that" had to do with my performance on a bicycle.  I embraced the fact that I could do it.  I enjoyed the fact that this was something that I could control.  I began to truly understand accountability and consequence.  It is not an external thing, a coach you report to or a justice system that lets you down.  It is about controlling the things that you have the power to control, whether it's making responsible decisions about training and nutrition or not driving after drinking or choosing to run with a buddy.  The world is designed to test you and ultimately it will hurt you if you do not pass that test.  (Think of the gazelle that is not paying attention on the African savanna.  He gets eaten by a lion.)

In no way, shape, or form am I advocating becoming risk averse; quite the opposite, actually.  I am saying that you have control of so much.  Take that control and own it.  It's a terrifying, beautiful, liberating thing.  Every little thing that you do to improve you lot in life, to change what you don't like about the person in the mirror (and I am not talking beauty here folks), is a step towards true freedom.

Jump out of an airplane (I've done it and highly recommend it) and love every second of it, but understand the choice and all it's possible ramifications.  You own your future and you own your results, good or bad.  That isn't scary, it's AWESOME!!  If your life feels out of control, if you are in pain, if you cannot face yourself, look around.  Find one thing that you can take control of right now.  Can you clean your house?  Too much?  How about just the kitchen?  Maybe just one dish?  Can you make the next thing you put in your mouth nourishing?  One time sub chips for grapes?  Can you walk around the block, even if you do it with tears running down your face?  One thing.  Don't worry about anything other than this single moment in time but pick something and control it, own it, and feel good about the result, no matter how tiny.  It starts with one small thing that becomes two, then three, and so on.  I promise that the little things at the beginning are huge leaps, even more so that the astonishing feats at the end.  You are SO worth the effort and you WILL SO see the results.  Fact.  Indisputable.

For me, I am in a wonderful place.  I am in that place were I have replaced wishing with dreaming, survival with goals.  I still have PLENTY of work to do.  I'll be done when I have decomposed but for now, I have reached a place where I never thought I would be.  I thought true happiness was only for other people but here I am and I am happy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Separating The Lessons From The Angst

Well, it appears that this week I am sidelined.  That is leaving lots of time to sit around and think.  On the upside, I am getting a few extra blog posts written.  On the downside, I have visited the race website about 5000 times... today.  Yeah, the race website for Tri Rock Austin.  That would be the race that is in less than two weeks.  The one I am, at this point, convinced I am going to miss.  That is just torture!!

It is not so much that I am missing that race and I have placed a personal premium on being able to complete a planned set of races without falling apart.  It has more to do with simply being able to suck it up and do the work, arrive at the starting line and subsequently the finish.  Oh, and in a competitive fashion, thank you very much.

I have had a maelstrom of thoughts going through my head this week.

"Did I ignore the symptoms?"  "Did I fail to prepare?"  "Did I push when I shouldn't have?"  "Did I slack when I should have pushed?"  "Was it stupid to run the 5K?"  "Did I hammer too hard on the bike?"  "Am I actually not good enough to do this sport?"  "Am I doomed to be an overweight, delusional wannabe that cannot actually finish what she started"......


Hold up there, cowgirl.  It's time for a reality check.

How fast this simple little injury has deteriorated into total self-loathing.  How about a little sanity here.

First, I trust DW.  I trust his ability to prep me properly for the races.  I have done what I was told start to finish (thank goodness I record all my workouts with my Garmin and they are saved for posterity).  There was no lack of preparation.  So that considered, I am going to break down the rest of the factors in play this summer.

Two, to answer the push-too-hard-push-through-pain question.  Yes, I did ignore pain.  I crashed my bike and was in all kinds of pain for weeks.  I did push myself because that is what I do.  It is what makes me an athlete.  The important details here are what can I take away from this as lesson in smarter training and racing.  What is within my sphere of control to change?  Now I am trying to separate the true mistakes from the nature of the beast.

I cannot change the fact that while on a hard ride, in the rain, on a new bike, I braked too suddenly and went down at a high rate of speed.  There may be learning experiences in that but sometimes lumps are a part of the process.  If you never overshoot your limits, you are either not trying hard enough or you have so much experience, you know exactly where that ULTRA-FINE line is.  If it is the latter, that information was gained by, well, taking some lumps.

Three, I had a lot of change all at once in the middle of a heavy training block.  I changed bikes, position, gears, bike shoes (they broke), running shoes (my favorites were discontinued and I tried some new ones that were not, ahem, ideal), terrains  (Austin has a nice packed gravel running trail and once on the road it was either difficult single track trails or concrete; mostly concrete).  In retrospect, change like that should be avoided mid-season.  In my case, some of it was unavoidable but now I know to use the off season to explore things like this, check my equipment and upgrade worn parts, and experiment with any changes I may want to make.  Once the racing season begins, stick with what works.  I cannot control all of the change listed but usually a little is no big deal.  It is when it starts to add up that the body can no longer adapt.

Then there was the fall itself.  I hurt my hip which led to an altered gait for a few weeks and strained the structures on the opposite side of my body, namely my IT band.  I also injured my shoulder pretty badly which took my swim training off the board.  That meant that at a time when my biomechanics were undergoing a lot of change, I suddenly increased my run and bike volumes.  Plus, in Michigan, I was having so much fun I was stretching some of my workouts past their prescribed limits.  So, in short, a pretty significant bump in volume on the bike and the run while rehabbing injuries.  Did I drive this point home to DW?  Did I make sure he realized that I was dealing with daily pain in training?  No, not really.  I didn't really appreciate the significance of it myself.  That would be a rookie mistake but not an indicator of a fundamental lack of worth as a human being.

After my body started sending me LOUD signals, I did finally get busy finding the last few pairs of my old running shoes online and buying them.  However, it was too little too late and I had set a bit of an inflammation cycle.  Going forward, I will always have my next pair of shoes in the closet so that when I start feeling achy, I can just switch them out with new ones.  It's like having a spare roll of toilet paper in the cabinet.  Do you really want to rely on your ability to get to the store after you've run out and before you need to pee again?  Point taken.

Once the pain begins, all you can do is attempt to contain it, limit it to manageable levels while continuing to train.  If it cannot be managed, ultimately the situation arrives at breaking point where time off is the only solution.  I had been looking forward to the off season for some rest and a chance to heal up a little.  I didn't make it that far, though that is not entirely surprising.  Now, hopefully, with diligence I can minimize the impact of this little hiccup and get back on track.  There are still two more races on the calendar after Austin.  Self-pity and self-loathing won't get me to those finish lines any more than they will carry me home in the Austin race.

As to the 5K, the bike leg, and the rest of the useless self-deprecation, drop it.  A race is a race and the point of preparation is to be able to go for it.  It was not a lack of training, mistakes in pacing, or a lack of fundamental worth in play.  It was a few mistakes (that can be corrected going forward) which added up to a problem.  As of right now, I don't seem to need surgery.  It is recovering on it's own and most likely, a week of training is all that I will lose.  Due to my travel schedule, it is a critical week in preparation for Austin, but who cares?  I will leave the final call on Austin to DW since my objectivity is sometimes a little suspect.  But seriously, one race in exchange for physical health and strong performances in the long term plan seems like a fair trade to me.  This week?  That race?  If it is the price I paid for the mistakes above then, in the grand scheme of things, the price of this bit of education really wasn't all that expensive.

Now survive a week of rest and a little active recovery and get back down to business a little wiser for the experience.  If Austin is a lost cause, so be it.  Look forward to Galveston and Dallas, followed by an aggressive schedule for 2013.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Warning... Sudden Stop Ahead!! Please Check Perspective.

While I was waiting for pictures to be posted from the race last weekend, there was something else developing in my life.  An injury.

On Monday, I felt awesome, feisty, full of energy.  I was such a pain during the phone interview that I think DW wished he could put a chain over my nose (a control method for difficult horses). I probably would have benefited from a chain over the nose.  He gave me the option of extending my easy recovery ride to 2 hours from 30-45 mins if I was feeling good.  During that ride I noticed a tendency to be pushing to big of a gear and letting my cadence hover in the 80's (from the 90-105 that I normally ride).  Other than that, the ride was a non-event.

The next morning, while I was on the couch doing some work on the computer, I noticed a strong ache in my right knee.  Now, I have been nursing a troubled IT band since the bike crash and the reduction in swim workouts due to the shoulder injury (same bike crash) has put a lot of running and cycling on the calendar.  I didn't really think anything of it as I absent-mindedly rubbed it.  It was really quite sore and so I decided to walk around to keep from stiffening up.

That was when it hit.  As I tried to move my knee through a basic range of motion, the pain went haywire!  I couldn't move it and nearly checked out.  I have a pretty solid pain tolerance but this caught me completely off guard.  It was totally debilitating and after I caught my breath, I made two phone calls, one to DW and the other to Dr. Mike (aka Mr Miyagi).  I did not reach DW but was able to schedule an appointment with Dr. Mike for that afternoon.

Remember him?  He's THAT good!
The long and short of it?  I had displaced the meniscus and it had gotten pinched.  The protocol for this injury is basically to manually push the meniscus back into the joint (while ignoring yowls of pain from the patient that would do a Spanish Inquisitor proud).  He explained that the meniscus was unstable, compromised, and very prone to tearing that this stage.  If it tears, the solution is surgery.

DW and I connected and I got another stern lecture.  He was going to be tied up in clinics for a few days and I was going to have to make decisions about my training on my own.  If I had any doubt, I should be more conservative than I think I need to be.  He saw this going one of two ways... a short hiccup in the training then a return to the program 100%... or a meniscal tear followed by surgery and months of setback.  I was to protect that knee at all costs, even if it meant minimal amounts of active recovery interspersed with complete rest.

A VERY stern lecture...

My heavy build week going into Tri Rock Austin?  Out of the question.  Tri Rock Austin??  That's a big unknown right now.


At present, I have employed everything at my disposal.  Rest, wraps, ice, elevation, three visits in three days to Dr. Mike.  I am avoiding NSAIDS though, since pain is my guide right now.  I work in an environment where I am moving around large animals in deep bedding, going up and down a ladder that is off balance a hundred times an hour, and responding to their movements without thinking.  If the pain is masked, nothing will alert my brain to the fact that I cannot take that next step.  I have been down that road before and know for a fact that the outcome is never good.  It is why my shoulder has suffered so many setbacks.
me for real!

I did a light ride on the trainer last night and woke up today a little more sore, so tonight became a day off.  I feel, quite frankly, like a water balloon!  Bloated, bloated, bloated!!!  But at present, I believe I am a water balloon that does not need surgery.

The meniscus is now back inside the joint where it belongs and while it is "touch it and I'll punch you" tender, it is working.  The only real concern is the sharp pain that I get if I go up or down hill, or during twisting motions.  I am hopeful that that is just irritated tissue and not a tear in the cartilage.

Seriously, who takes these pictures?

I spent some time today researching possible races for the first half of 2013.  Why?  Because right now I need to think about the future, the bigger picture.  It is no big deal if I miss my next race, or the one following.  It is a big deal if I end up so injured that it takes 6 or 12 months to return to this point.  So you see, I am back in the position of making bargains with myself.  Accept feeling icky right now, put your desire to train on hold, and think about the future.  If you do, you can have the contents of this list!!

I predict a triumphant return!
(photo by wonderferret)

I'll keep you posted.

Bowling Green Triathlon Race Report

The Duck may not run, but she sure can ride a bike!

I went into this race, as you know, with a lame shoulder.  My expectations were not overly ambitious.  It was my first triathlon since the injury last year and a LOOOOONG, slow rebuild.  About a two months ago, I crashed my bike and have been only a half step ahead of those injuries all summer.  Still, I have been training well, particularly in the run, and felt pretty good about it.

I did make the mistake of looking at winning times in my age group for the five previous years.  NEVER DO THAT!!!  I saw times that I felt put me in contention for a podium spot.  The fastest times were 1:26:andchange.  The averages for the bike legs were in the 17 mph range and people were hitting the podium with 1:30's.  I knew I could pull that off, unless....  Find an elevation profile for this race STAT!!

Hmmm.... MapMyRide painted a pretty scary picture.  A long steady climb that tips up into a CAT 5 climb towards the end for about .5 mile.  CAT 5 climb?  No problem.  CAT 5 climb at the end of a long climb that would have you reaching the base without any momentum?  Could be a problem.  The rest of the course was rolling.  HOW BAD is that hill?  Does it account for the relatively weak showing in my age group?

Strava.  Check Strava.  If it's that nasty, it'll be a segment.  Yup.  There it is.  KOM?  12 mph.

Wait?  WHAT?  KOM=12mph?  I am gonna be pushing Seabiscuit to the top of that thing!!!!!

I shot DW a message.  "If I have to push my bike to the top, I am going to lie to you."

His response:  "There will be no pushing!"

Well, that 86's my plan to get to the top.  Maybe pulling is more acceptable.

In the week leading up to race day, I swam twice bringing my two month total to three swim workouts. Awesome.  The first swim went pretty well.  I was stiff and weak warming up but worked down to a perfectly acceptable pace of 1:35/100 without too much trouble.  It wasn't lightning fast but gave me a good barometer for how much I had lost.  I went home and seeded myself into the swim at 7:20/400.  This was conservative but I felt it was appropriate given the circumstances.  Then two days later, I swam again.  This time it was terrible.  The shoulder refused to come to the party, dragging my pace all the way down to 2:00/100.  I promptly and appropriately responded by completely panicking about that 7:20.

Like it or not; prepared or not... race day has a way of showing up on schedule.

Nails painted "Seabiscuit Red"!

I worked Friday night into Saturday morning, got a little sleep, then made the nearly three hour drive to Bowling Green.  I had booked a room at the sponsored hotel which turned out to be exactly the right answer.  I checked in then went to the race venue.  I checked out the pool and part of the run course.  I rode my bike for around the run course then all over the local neighborhood.  I think that I might have gone a little too hard but my legs felt GREAT and I was hungry for an effort.  Then I went back, picked up my packet in the lobby, then retired to my room.  I ate in the room and used the time to organized my transition areas.  Seabiscuit lounged in the corner like a predator.  I was really feeling pretty good about the whole thing!

Seabiscuit resting up for his big day.

I slept like the dead until the alarm went off.  Woke up feeling strong and headed out the door on time.  I was one of the first people in the transition area and got a great spot on the rack.  After that was all set up, I was able to be pretty leisurely about getting to body marking, etc.  I finally warmed up in the pool and felt like I was swimming OK.

Then they had a short meeting and lined people up by number.  I was number 81 based on my predicted swim time.  One little detail jumped out at me.  The actual distance of this swim was not 400 yards.  It was 437.... METERS.  It was a metric pool.  Crap.  437 (that would be 479 yards) meters in 7:20 with a damaged shoulder?  I was seeded in too fast.  I didn't relish the idea of having people swimming over the top of me.  Another thing, the pool had these super slick metal walls.  The only way to be confident pushing off the wall from a flip turn was to kind of crouch on the wall, make sure you had your feet, then push... carefully.  I knew I was going to be pushing off at hard angles to get under the lane lines for the snake swim too.  That could turn into disaster if I wasn't careful.  

They changed the start tactics in the last few minutes before the race.  Now instead of starting on the wall, you started on deck, went through the timers, jumped into the lane from the ladder which was at 90 degrees to the lane, then started swimming.  It kind of blew my mind, as did the looong wait between when they got us out of the pool to the start.  I had nearly an hour between my warm up and the start of my race.

The start was kind of fun.  Jump in, dolphin dive and kick like mad!!  I got passed pretty early and it completely blew my composure.  I felt stiff and wooden, could get my body rotating even enough to breathe without taking in water.  It took all of three quarters of the swim to feel like I had any rhythm.  I did pass two people and got passed twice.  I guess I was seeded in correctly after all.  The swim ended with a climb up the ladder and a short jaunt across the pool deck.  My total time from timing mat to timing mat was 8:32 which was good enough for  4th in my age group and19th place overall.

T1 went smoothly.  Though I hit lap going in, I forget to hit lap going out which meant there were no data files to be had.  The Garmin Overlord just recorded the LONGEST T1 in history!  They were stopping people to mount their bikes right at the timing mats for the bike.  That meant that as I ran out, I nearly crashed into the woman in front of me.  I feel sorry for people coming through later when the bottle neck was going to be really bad!

No matter how fit you get, that wet tri suit shows off terrible things!!

I headed out on the bike.  I rode the beginning of the course a little conservatively.  I didn't know how bad that hill was going to hurt and I wanted everything in my legs.  Still, I was passing people consistently, averaging a much higher speed that most of my competitors.  The hill came, the hill went, the hill was NOT A PROBLEM!  I powered up it with little trouble passing people the entire time.  Then it came to the rollers.  Kentucky terrain is so much fun!!  Lots of those shortish power climbs immediately followed by whizzing downhills, then straight into the next power climb.  I had really found my legs by this point and aside from the guy that decided to cheat by drafting off of me for most of the race, it was just me and the "Biscuit" doing what we do best.  I ended up passing every other woman in the race and had buried myself among the male leaders by the end.  I averaged 20.5 which was the fastest female bike split of the day and (I believe) in the top 5% of the male bike splits.  I came roaring into T2 feeling like I had superpowers!!!

T2 was another button pushing epic fail!!  I am going to reconsider the multisport function on my watch, at least for short races.  I just don't think of it.  Other than that, I rolled through transition quickly and according to plan.

I had a fairly long jog to the exit of T2 and immediately realized how long it had been since I ran off the bike.  My legs felt HORRIBLE!!  For me, running well is about zeroing in on a feeling.  It's a posture thing, sort of.  I was so taken aback by my wooden legs that I failed to find that cue that I have come to rely on.  I also might have found some bearing in my Garmin information if my Garmin was giving me anything useful, but no....

Early on, the eventual OA female winner jogged up beside me and commented on how fast I was on the bike.  She was really pretty cool and there was no real threat since I was never going to catch her on the run for an OA placing and we were not in the same age group.  She complimented my "screaming fast bike leg" again then illustrated how screaming fast she was on the run.  I finally found some rhythm in the run at about the halfway point.  I think at that point I started to run fairly well.  However, with the Garmin recording another impossibly long transition, I was unable to know for sure.

The last mile was all inside the park and I was about halfway to the finish when a wicked fast woman in a red MDOT bikini came flying past me.  As she went by she said "I thought you'd won it!".  My little brain exploded!!  She was averaging a low 7's pace and I was unable to match her.  I had no choice but to let her go.  I had this flood of thoughts and feelings at that point, none of which were helpful.  My chin came up, my posture fell apart and with it my cadence.  My perceived exertion skyrocketed but I doubt I was running any faster.  I was blowing myself up over this one little comment.

The reality check came a few minutes later.  Allergy season in KY is legendary and this year has been particularly bad.  I was having a lot of trouble breathing and leaned over to blow a HUGE snot rocket.  As I looked up, I was staring straight into the lens of the course photographer!  How had I not noticed him BEFORE I did that.  As I ran by I said "I hope you didn't get that!"  He replied, "I get ALL the REALLY BAD ones!"

Awesome sauce, buddy.

Thus far, they have not posted the run pics.  Fear not, I will post them as soon as they are up, even the uglies!

I looked to the finish line and discovered, to my horror, that it was not there.  The volunteers routed the runners around a bend and away from where the finish was supposed to be.  After what felt like 100 miles with a few direction changes, my frustration was rising.  I actually heard myself say "WHERE THE F*&% IS THE FINISH LINE!!"  Once I finally saw it, I was nearly on top of it.  I did manage a weak finishing kick, but there was actually very little time to build into a good one.... and the race was over.

I saw red bikini at the finish and confirmed what I suspected.  Female 35-39.  Damn.  I knew I almost had it and I totally lost it.  I ended up third.

Nice bling!

In retrospect, I cannot complain.  The swim was as good as could be expected with a shoulder injury.  The bike was pure poetry.  And the run, as much as I wanted to be upset about it, was my second fastest 5K ever, and my fastest in a tri.  I ran a good race.  There were areas that will be addressed in preparation for upcoming efforts but in all, for the first time back in action after fourteen months, a very solid effort.  It was my first non-athena race and I took 3rd in my age group.  Just because there was someone who was stronger that day does not diminish the fact that I have come, oh, so far!!  There will be a point when the Red Bikinis of the world will watch me disappear into the distance and never see me again.  And there will be days that it doesn't work out so well.  That's racing.
The day's best effort was good enough... period.

Next up?  Tri Rock Austin on Sept. 3 for my first Olympic distance effort.

Friday, August 17, 2012

No Word Of A Lie

The other night I was pressing myself to finish the last mile of my last hard workout before this weekends race.  My suffer quotient was pretty high and my determination was is locked in and gritty.  It was about 10:30 at night and the only sounds were my footfalls, breath, and the hum of the cicadas.  Then I heard it....

...about .2 mi from my finish... I climbed the final hill towards the car...

Out of the darkness, a single...


A kindred spirit cheering me on from the duck pond.

(You can't make this stuff up.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Midsummer Night's Race Report And A Ride To Remember!

This week was fairly uneventful, thankfully.  I finally removed my noggin from my caboose and decided at the last minute to go ahead and race the 5K (the Shakespeare themed Midsummer Night's Run) on Saturday night.  It is a fun race with about a bazillion people shoved onto a narrow downtown street with runners, run/walkers, walkers, children, dogs, strollers, and for some reason, strings of people traveling hand in hand like protesters at a rally.  In all, it made for a crowded race.  I lined up much farther back than I should have (It took over 5 1/2 mins to arrive at the starting line after the clock started) and found myself having to weave through traffic the whole time.  This was not entirely bad.  It kept my focus centered on what was in front of me and I stayed very present in the moment.  In fact, even standing at the start my focus was great.  There were a million people around me but I was the only one there.

I ended up settling in at a pace that was much faster than I had planned.  A sixty mile ride earlier in the day made me skeptical about how much of a pace I could handle.  Initially, I thought to back off but I figured it was such a short race that it might be okay to roll on a bit.  I knew from the interval work that I had been doing that if I needed two a minute or two of slower jogging would snap me back if I started to blow up.  Interestingly, I never needed it.  I just locked into the feeling of fast that I have gotten to know over the last five weeks and never let go.  I built my pace towards the end up to, according to the watch, a 6:22 (6:22? ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING ME?  Ducks just don't move that fast... but that wasn't even the max pace for the race.) as I crossed the line.  Or should I say right before I crossed the line...

As I was locked in on the finish, I saw my line home.  I was doing this build that was smooth and powerful AND AWESOME to experience.  Right then, the guys in front of me abruptly slowed to a near walk and clasped hands to cross the line as a slow moving human wall!!  I damn near face planted across the line!

I started my watch a few seconds early and stopped it a few seconds late but the distance it recorded was 3.21 miles.  I believe it, given the amount of zigzagging I had to do.  The chip time was a shocking 5:12 better than my previous 5K PR and nearly 10 mins better than my time in this race two years ago.  Last year I couldn't even run because I had just been injured.

Just like when I dropped out of the Athena class, I disappeared below that 30min mark with minutes to spare.  Just like that, another barrier gone; another milestone passed.

That night, I struggled for hours with pretty strong stomach cramps.  It meant that I wasn't able to sleep until around 5 am, so I had to rearrange my workouts, putting the group ride before the run intervals.

Fantastic Group!!

Bluegrass Tri Chick and The Duck 

The next day, I went for a ride with a group of people that are involved with Team In Training locally.  I was invited to the ride by fellow blogger, Bluegrass Tri Chick.  This was the most enjoyable group I have ever ridden alongside.  The vibe was warm, welcoming, and lighthearted, yet once the wheels started rolling, plenty businesslike.  In addition to a great group of women on tri bikes, there were two roadies (men, but we can forgive them that) who made sure the pace stayed lively.  I was a little worried when they ushered me to the front to ride with the roadies.  It felt a bit like duck hunting.. you know, send up the duck and take aim!  They assured me that they only had paintball guns.  Fortunately, I managed to not embarrass myself, I hope.

The Duck and her new hero!

Also in attendance was their Team In Training coach, Susan Bradley Cox, who is an undeniable legend in her own time.  Sometimes in life you meet people who are so powerful in themselves that they provide a homing beacon for your goals.  In my experience, these people are rarely in your life for long.  They are there to provide a snapshot, something to focus on as you move towards the personal goals you have set, towards your development into a better human being.  I feel like I met one of those people in Susan.  I cannot describe in words how positive her energy was... and I don't normally think about people's energy... but she simply radiated warmth, kindness, and confidence.  I immediately liked her and immediately realized that I will strive towards that same quality.  She was totally inclusive and never once left me feeling like an observer, even though I tend to put myself in that position.

Bluegrass Tri Chick and the group 

The rest of the group also treated me with the same kindness.  It was beautiful, challenging, enjoyable ride on a beautiful day with great people.  It doesn't get any better and I responded by being willing to push my body which was beginning to feel the effects of the ride, race, and GI issues of the previous day.

Later that night, I went out and did my run intervals.  I was expecting to be totally waxed but surprised myself.  Once I became willing to just experience the run for what it was, not what I assumed it would be, it went really well.  The intervals ticked off easily and the remaining mileage was totally attainable.  I finished the workout strong and acutely aware of how much my attitude contributed to the success in that workout and in the race.  There's a lesson here...

In all, a good weekend that will stay with me well into the future.

Kinda feelin' like I need a throne now!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Balance And Sacrifice

This past week there was a conversation between a friend and I regarding sacrifice for sport.  While she is a gifted dressage rider, she has had a rough go of it lately.  The result has been a degree of burnout.  Shortly thereafter, someone started a thread on a triathlon forum regarding levels of sacrifice necessary to achieve greatness.  There were some amazing things said in the thread and after reading it, I shot my friend an email.  She in turn posted the content of the message to Facebook and it got a lot of positive response.

To E:

Remember our conversation about sacrifice... here is a comment on a forum by a tri coach. I thought it was appropriate to the conversation... 

"There's definitely a difference between why we do what we do and how what we do is perceived by others. My point was more to when you (collective) perceive what you do as a sacrifice. That is usually not a sustainable attitude to achieve greatness." 

What I think is significant for me is the fact that I perceive more sacrifice when I have to stop training to do normal social things than the other way around. I do those things because of a perception of balance, or a need for balance, in life. I think I would be quite happy going all the way down the rabbit hole in pursuit of what others might consider fairly moderate goals. There is no Olympic medal in my future but I work this hard because I guess I want to define and redefine my limits.

You have to come up with those answers yourself but the questions remain the same. You are sacrificing a lot for a particular goal. If the level of sacrifice is too great for the level of result, you will be unhappy. At that point, you either need to make the rest of the sacrifices to get to the result you really want, or reduce the sacrifices until they no longer feel like a burden. Either will work. The right one is determined by your personality. There is no wrong answer here.

That's my thought for the day. ;)

The quotation in italics is taken from a post on a popular forum.  The rest is my take on the subject.  I realize that not everyone considers the same things sacrifices.  I live in a very, very small space and drive an older car.  These things are fine with me because I am single, without children, and have a job that keeps me out of tempo with ordinary life.  Thus they are not really big sacrifices.  I am not all that interested in being very social in a traditional sense.  While I love group rides or meeting people for workouts, I don't have a need to go clubbing on a Friday night.  Two hours on the trainer will entertain me just fine, thank you.  I don't consider it a sacrifice to spend half of my day off on my bike or running.  There is nothing that I would rather be doing.  I find it to be more of a sacrifice to skip these things because someone wants to go to dinner or a movie.  Now, THAT is sacrifice!!!!  (It is also why I am still single.)

I think that sometimes we look at other peoples choices from our own personal paradigm, thus making them seem (in some cases) mind boggling.  Balance in life is not about spending an appropriate number of hours doing something that society considers relaxing.  It is doing the things that YOU love.  It is making sure that your "sacrifice" and your "reward" are proportionate to each other.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What do Mr. Miyagi and Pony Finals Have In Common?

Both are facilitating the Duck's recovery.

The last week and a half have been really frustrating.  I was humming along really well and then BAM!!!...  I ended up snowed in by this crippling fatigue and several injuries.  The injuries were mostly (I believe) the result of hitting the asphalt at a high rate of speed on the bike.  While none of them were hospital worthy, there were several areas of pain that did not want to heal.  I also got myself completely out of whack and with no chiropractor and no ART practitioner immediately available, I relied on ice and time which turned out to be a mistake.  Niggling pains developed into full blown overuse/inflammation injuries.

I, also, started feeling the pull of fatigue in Michigan but wanted it so bad, I kept pushing.  The running in particular had taken a wonderful turn and the way things were going, I was in danger of needing to rename this blog!  I lost a total of 6 lbs the final week in Michigan, probably too many at once, and felt like I was getting ready to really turn a corner.  SO, being the greedy duck that I am, I ignored the whispers and waited for my body to start screaming instead.  (Bad plan, should any of you be considering it as a course of action.)

I came to KY, pulled an all-nighter of driving and braiding, then launched into the week with a crushing workload and a full social and training calendar.  Having lived 18 years of my life here, I have many friends here and it becomes a very real contender for my time and energy.  Everywhere else I go, I have a very limited social existence so it becomes a matter of fitting in the occasional outing.  Not here.  Here it can dominate my free time if I let it.  I am always a little torn since I love the people I left behind a few years ago, and am always a little starved for human contact (horses lack conversation skills).  Plus, like cherries, which are meant to be overeaten during their very short peak season, I seem to glut when I am here then get very litte socialization during the rest of the year.  Time in Texas will surely balance this but for now, it is the way it is.  However, the simple point is that it also cuts inton valuable rest time.
Ky has lots of memories.  This lot is where I learned to ride Trigger!

I also had some additional stresses chiming in.  A death in the family along with some ensuing family drama provided a healthy distraction.  Some issues with my camper hookups meant that even basic tasks like getting a shower required extra measures.  I was having to get up when I should have been sleeping to deal with these things... make phone calls, go to appointments, get to businesses, etc during regular business hours.  Regular business hours for someone that works at night can be very, very challenging.  Imagine if every errand had to happen between the hours of 9 pm and 5 am, but the rest of  your life went on as usual.  When would you sleep?

I crashed.  I crashed really badly.  By the end of the week, I couldn't effectively train, I had cancelled all of my non-essential plans (by the way, that includes laundry) and reduced down to nursing a crippled shoulder, inflamed IT band/knee, and battling fatigue that was threatening to keep me from doing anything at all.  Yesterdays long run was cut in half and the pace was 2:30 off my normal long run pace and almost 4:00 off what I would have done for the distance actually traveled.  Everything hurt and I felt like I was swimming through molasses (except that I can't swim right now- BAD shoulder BAD!).  I nearly cried.  I texted DW and pulled the 5K on Saturday and the race on Aug 19th off the calendar.  It was a little bit of a hissy fit but then, I also could not conceive of doing anything else.

The only redemption was in a short session on the bike that afternoon where I didn't TOTALLY suck.  It actually helped me to feel better physically and mentally

The clouds have hopefully started to clear, though.  I started seeing a local chiropractor/ART guy.  He made quick work of the hip issues and got me adjusted nicely.  He has been working on the shoulder and IT band, as well as the chronic issues in my left hand (a gift from the braiding gods).  The shoulder had been showing glimmers of response but nothing definitive.
"Yeah, I'm that good."
Yesterday when I went in, he did some different techniques and ROM tests.  He pinpointed exactly where to stick his thumb that would make me whimper in pain.  Then he did this freaky thing where he pressed the humeral head in towards the joint, did something that really hurt, and when it was done.... the freaking thing moved freely with minimal pain!  Dr. M, did you learn that trick in Okinawa?  Seriously, I went from 75% ROM to 100% ROM in like 60 seconds.  Totally FREAKY!!  I'm sold.

Also, this week is Pony Finals.  (ACK!  Run screaming!  Pony Moms make the Zombie Apocalypse look like a group of friends arriving for tea!)

Meet Jake.  3rd in the nation in points.  GO JAKE!!

I managed to avoid picking up much work, instead just covering the few ponies that my regular clients qualified.  It has offered me the opportunity to rest.  I think that is exactly what I got yesterday.  REST.  I was so tired, I went to bed early.  EARLY, like 5:30 pm.  I woke up for a bite to eat, a glass of water, and to let out dogs around midnight and was back asleep within an hour.  I slept uninterrupted (poor puppies!!) until 11 am.  (That's what 16.5 hours of sleep?) I cannot believe that I was really that tired!

I am hopeful that if I listen to my body, rest if rest is required, choose naps instead of coffee, and just be gentle with myself, maybe I can turn this around without too much further damage.  I am skeptical about the races, though DW suggested that I wait until a day or two before or even the day of to make the final call.  I suppose there is no harm in taking that advice and who knows, maybe I'll get to them and find I feel up to it.  I am so rusty that even just having a chance to run through my transitions would be helpful before heading into the big sanctioned races in September and October.  There is a lot more room for error at a small venue.

Who knows?  Today is the first day that I don't feel like I have one foot in the grave, but then I haven't really made it out of bed either.  The only requirements I have made of myself today are... laundry and workout.  THAT'S IT.  If I want to sleep the rest of the day.... so be it.  It is the only true remedy for fatigue and my fatigue had reached some pretty epic proportions recently.   Time to take the recovery seriously.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Tough Week: Injuries, Travel, Work, ...And A Bear!

On my way to a running trail in MI.

Last week got away from me a bit.  In addition to saying goodbye to the awesome dudes at Einstein Cycles in Traverse City (best bike shop in the north!), the final days in Michigan involved a lot of work and some great trail runs and rides complete with all kinds of wildlife sightings, including, um, a BEAR on a trail run!  Terrifying!  Bears like ducks.  They are crunchy and good with ketchup.  Fortunately, this bear had already eaten a nice dinner and was content to let me leave un-devoured!  I apologize for not snapping a picture.

I finished the Michigan trip and headed for Kentucky.  The horse show was a six day show so I had to drive 600 miles, set up the camper and go straight into work.  The days following were pretty relentless.  Training-wise, this was meant to be a serious recovery week but thanks to a grueling workload, at the end of it I feel worse than I did at the start.

I think there was a bit of an overreach in Michigan and certainly in the transition between the two shows.  I am hoping that I did not do lasting damage.  My body has felt terrible, painful, and weak and when I jarred my injured shoulder last night, it all kind of caught up to me.  The pain was pretty intense but the frustration to have what is amounting to a fairly serious shoulder problem was worse.  I stood on that ladder and cried my eyes out.  I wanted to take five both in life terms and in work terms, but I had a schedule to keep so it was "cry if you must, but keep twisting!"  It is something of a metaphor for life and might be a new personal philosophy.

"Cry if you must but keep going!"

Let me tell you, it did not stop me from composing a totally pitiful email to DW this morning before I slept.  Why I do that I will never know.  My life outlook after the busiest night of the week is always pretty bleak and after a particularly hard week like this, I become Chicken Little.  Perhaps this blog should be called Cries Like A Chicken!  Anyhow, I managed to put together about seven hours of sleep and guess what?  The sky is not falling!

Still, I think the pain and fatigue this week was a big, fat warning shot off the port bow.  I overreached and without backing off, could be looking at overtraining.  It is one of the challenges I face with a job that is essentially zone 1-2 work all night, interrupted recovery, and a serious travel schedule.  I spend a lot of time balanced on a knife's edge, and the tiniest thing can push me off.  The load I put into my body from work is not productive or constructive, but it draws from the same pool of energy that my training does.  I try to balance the week so that my busiest nights working are my lightest days training and vice versa, but that means there is never truly a rest day and all it takes is a slight miscalculation to screw it all up.  The solution, rest... even when the compulsive brain is totally convinced you are sliding all the way back to the beginning due to a few down days.  (Yeah, gotta ignore that little Richard Simmons cricket on my shoulder!  "Go, go, go!  Feel the bur... squish!)

In brighter news, I had a conversation with the Blugrass Tri Chick.  This is a great lady who patiently chatted with an over-caffeinated Duck (with a bad case of the babbles) during my drive to KY.  We made plans to do a ride while I am in town and I am really looking forward to it.  She also referred me to a great chiropractor/ART guy who's personal background in triathlon.  He is having to dig through a months worth of baggage on this shoulder and hip... poor bastard!  Still, there is a glimmer of progress in just a couple of visits (that I managed to forget about as I stand there twisting and sobbing.)  He is going to be instrumental in getting me to those races.  I am thinking that the warm up race on the 19th might be out since I have not been able to swim (except once) in a month, but I am hoping to still stay on track for the three key races in September and October.

Another very successful moment happened during my one (ONE!  One and ONLY) workout so far this week.  I had power based intervals that I wanted to do on the trainer.  I also had a saddle that was REALLY ruffling my tail feathers.  I scheduled a saddle fitting at Swim Bike Run of Kentucky and booked some trainer time as well.  I tried several ISM saddles and while my tail feathers seemed to like the Time Trial model the best, it put me in a position that would have required a longer stem on the bike.  I ended up taking a test saddle (the breakaway model) and will be making a decision in a few days.    So far, so good.  It seems to relieve pressure without placing undue strain on my shoulders.
Undevoured Duck at SBRKY!

After looking at the above picture, I did book an appointment for my sorely neglected head.  Snips, foils, and all kinds of good stuff happening Monday.  The best part?  I will be doing the salon thing with my long time bestie of nearly two decades!!  This will be a welcome, frilly, girly break from the intensity of the last couple of months.